Report: Shiney new technologies no silver bullet for retailers

Most people don’t want to speak with robots while shopping — either in-store of online.

That’s just one of the findings in a study that reveals a huge disconnect between retailers and consumers on the role of new technologies in the shopping experience.

The study, conducted by Oracle NetSuite in partnership with Wakefield Research and retail consulting firm The Retail Doctor, surveyed 1,200 consumers and 400 retail executives across the U.S., U.K. and Australia, and found that retailers and consumers are on very different pages when it comes to enhancing the customer experience.

Seventy-three percent of retail executives believe that the overall environment in retail stores has become more inviting in the past five years. But only 45% of consumers agree, with 19% stating it has become less inviting. Additionally, 79% of retail executives believe chatbots are meeting consumer needs. But 66% of consumers disagree, with respondents noting that chatbots are currently more damaging to the shopping experience than helpful.

Nearly all (98%) of executives think that engaging with customers on social media is important to building stronger relationships with them. But only 12% of consumers think it has a significant impact on the way they think or feel about a brand.

In other findings from the study:

• The top technology advancements that consumers want to utilize when shopping in-store or online are self-checkout kiosks (38%), VR try-on (23%) and mobile payments (15%). Only 5% of consumers selected robots and chatbots as the technologies they most want to utilize.

• The top features attracting consumers to physical stores are options consistent with online (36%), simpler store layouts (35%), staff orders on a mobile device (29%) and in-store kiosks that allow consumers to purchase products that are unavailable in-store (23%).

• Nearly all (97%) of consumers agree there is a need to go into a physical store to purchase items and 70% believe the most appealing retail stores have features that simplify and streamline the shopping experience.

•Seventy-nine percent of retailer executives believe having AI and VR in stores will increase sales. Only 14% of consumers believe the technologies will have a significant impact on their purchase decisions.

•Almost all (98%) executives believe AI and VR will increase foot traffic. However, 48% of consumers do not think VR or AI would have any impact on how likely they are to go into a store.

•Forty-two percent of consumers (and 63% of Millennials) note that they would pay more for improved personalization, but only 11% of retail executives fully believe that their staff has the tools and information needed to give consumers a personalized experience. Eighty percent of consumers do not feel they are provided with a personalized shopping experience both in-store and online.

• Fifty-eight percent of consumers are uncomfortable with the way stores use technology to improve personalization in their shopping experience and 45% reported negative emotions when they receive personalized offers online.

The survey found that 53% of consumers felt negative emotions the last time they visited a store. Only 39% feel “confident” in retail stores today.

"These findings point to a clear and urgent need for better customer service," said Bob Phibbs, CEO, The Retail Doctor. "No retailer wants their customers to be confused or anxious, yet more than half of respondents have felt that way while shopping. Customers will feel confident when they develop an emotional connection to the brand. This happens when retailers foster positive, helpful in-store interactions; contrary to popular belief, Millennials want store employees to help them. With nearly every respondent reporting that they value brick-and-mortar stores, now is the time to craft every in-store interaction to keep shoppers coming back."
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